The guys in WALK THE MOON were crossing their fingers in hopes of a hit from their December sophomore album TALKING IS HARD when they released “Shut Up and Dance,” an energetic and catchy guitar-driven dance anthem that takes inspiration from cheesy, 80s-era rock. After a slow build that began last fall, the song finally reached the peak of both the alternative and rock charts, earning the Ohio-based band their first number one hit. As the track continues to grow more and more popular (buoyed by recent appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Late Night with Seth Meyers), WALK THE MOON frontman Nick Petricca takes us through the history of “Shut Up and Dance”- from the true story the lyrics are based on to the top of the charts.
Congratulations “Shut Up and Dance”! It looks like you have a hit song on your hands.
It’s insane, man. Thank you very much. It’s pretty surreal. Success is this sort of this climbing, moving, evasive target. So it’s great to feel like we’re growing.
Take me through the origin of “Shut Up and Dance.” I want to know everything about it.
Well, (bandmember) Eli Maiman and I were working on something that’s now the verse. And it had this great feeling that we couldn’t stop playing over and over. We didn’t have a chorus and we didn’t have a subject or a lyric. So over the next weekend, I went to this awesome party they have at The Echo in Echo Park, Los Angeles, called Funky Soul Saturday. The story of “Shut Up and Dance” is based on a true story of hanging out there with my friends… this girl actually told me to shut up and dance with her. We took it back to the studio and it spun out very quickly after that.
When she said that, did you know at the time that was going to be a lyic in a potential song? Or was it later when you realized that?
No, it was later. At the time, I was in my head and not with it. She’s one of my best friends and pulled me out into the moment, and that really became the subject of the song. Encouraging people to let go of whatever it is that’s bothering you and get into your body and out of your head. Coming home and working on the song I thought, this is it. This is totally it.
That must be awesome for her… to know she inspired such a great song.
Yeah. She was the one in the backless dress and beat-up sneaks.
That’s a lyric in the song, but it’s also what she was wearing that night? For real?
Yes! It gets very real in that song.
The first line is great, “Don’t you dare look back.” It’s such a bold first line. It’s like, whoa. This song is going to be abrasive.
It’s like, whatever you’re doing- fuck that. Listen to this song. When it comes to writing the lyrics, it’s usually just me emoting in a cave, trying to channel the spirits of rock and roll onto the paper. After I had that main bit in the chorus, I started picturing myself in high school because that’s what it really reminded me of. Being this incredibly uncomfortable, awkward adolescent dude, so it sort of became this anthem for the dork who is 100 percent me. The band had been listening to songs like “Jessie’s Girl” and “Just What I Needed” and “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”- these super quirky rock anthems. They’re simple and beautiful and in-your-face rock songs, and that’s the vibe we were looking for.
This seems like a song that if I saw performed live, I’d want to stomp my feet and clap my hands to. How are crowds reacting to it?
The first time we played it was at St. Louis University. We had just learned the song and no one had ever heard it, so we thought we’d try it out for these kids. From moment one, it was obvious there was something about the song. The kids were even singing along with the chorus the second time around. We tried to capture that energy on the record.
It must be exciting to see the song grow and grow every week on the charts.
This time around, I tried to kind of stay away from it a little. When we started to get noticed with (2010 hit) “Anna Sun,” everybody and their mother- and our own mothers- were telling us, “Oh, it’s gonna be the biggest song in the world!” We were pretty green at that point, so big part of me was fully ready to be the next Coldplay over night, but that wasn’t the way our story worked. Now I’m fully grateful for that and I’m stoked how things are going, so this time I tried to not worry about expectations and keep working. Whatever happens happens and we’ll build from that. I’m very, very grateful for how far it’s gotten and how far it may go. Every moment is bigger than the last if you keep working and keep trudging. We’re taking nothing for granted and appreciating every fan and every person we meet, and it’s been a really rewarding way to go.
What’s the next single?
I was going to ask you, because that’s a mystery right now.